Under the Gunn
Local designer Shan Keith Oliver makes it work on Lifetimes new fashion reality show.
THERE'S A NEW BREED of “Project Runway” this season—in the form of Tim Gunn’s “Under the Gunn” fashion reality show—and St. Louis’ own Shan Keith Oliver is in the thick of the competition.
Much like its popular sister show, the new Lifetime series throws a crop of designers into fierce competition with crazy deadlines and a long list of zany challenges. Now in the final leg of the season, Oliver has found his success by sticking to his own aesthetic and—despite a few six-hour deadlines to complete a head-to-toe look—working swiftly in order to avoid sending a mere swatch of fabric down the runway. Since the show’s premiere in January, Oliver has flown under the radar for the most part, but some of his designs have soared above the rest of the competition.
“If I’m inspired or motivated by something,” he says, “I can really do what I want to do. The only time I slow down is when I’m caught offguard or I’m not motivated by the pieces I’m working on.”
Thinking outside the box and playing up to his strengths of working quickly under pressure have made Oliver a top contender, particularly in the Hollywood challenge, where he created a red-carpet pantsuit instead of following the status quo and designing a gown.
“Initially, when they told us we had to do a red carpet look, everybody wanted to do a gown because you were supposed to be inspired by the surroundings of the LA tour,” he says. “I thought maybe I could do a pantsuit. When I went into Mood, I found this print that just spoke to me, so I decided that was what I was going to do.”
Unlike “Project Runway,” each “Under the Gunn” competing designer has a mentor, in addition to receiving feedback and guidance from Gunn himself. Then, designers present their work to a panel of judges on the runway for another round of critiques. What’s tricky, Oliver says, is taking criticism from all angles and channeling that into a presentable product that makes the mentors, the judges and Tim happy.
“Your mentor can tell you one thing and it can really take you away from what you were going to do,” he says. “You have to please the judges at the same time, so it definitely plays a mental factor. You can get caught up.”
With so many professional voices and opinions at play, even Gunn has noted the rift between mentors’ advice to designers and what he (and the judges) would like to see on the runway. But, Oliver says his mentor, “Project Runway” Season 9 winner Anya Ayoung-Chee, was his guiding support system and encouraged him to be bold and go after his own design aesthetic in the challenges.
“You get caught up by the critiques and want to stick to your own point of view,” Oliver says. “You just have to stick to who you are and not be distracted.”
Since the premiere of “Under the Gunn,” Oliver has been optimistic about his progress on the show and what’s next for his career. Right now, he’s working on getting his own clothing line out on the market. Until then, see how the final episodes play out on “Under the Gunn,” Thursdays at 8pm, on Lifetime TV.
Under the Gunn
Photo by Barbara Nitke and Adam Taylor/Lifetime.